This post was contributed by 501 AuctionsFor more on silent auctions listen to the NPA training by Sherry Truhlar called "The 5 Biggest Mistakes Made in Nonprofit Silent Auctions."

Want to start a friendly bidding war among your guests? Mobile bidding keeps guests engaged with immediate outbid text notifications - but having the right items to bid on is also key to a successful silent auction. The popularity of your items can mean the difference between simply reaching a goal versus exceeding your committee’s revenue expectations.

Using data gathered from all of our auction events, our resident Auction Geek has identified the 20 most popular silent auction items of the year. These items attracted the highest percentage above their fair market value (FMV) or current retail price.

On average, when using a mobile bidding platform, your items will sell for 75% of their FMV. Therefore, if the total FMV of your auction donations comes to $100,000, your organization can expect to earn revenue of approximately $75,000. Compare this to a pen and paper system, where the average percentage of FMV is 40%-55%, and you can immediately see the benefit of silent auction technology.

The secret to reaching bids of over 100% of the FMV? Simple: you need auction items that inspire your guests to keep bidding. Use our list below to guide the donation solicitation efforts of your volunteers as they look out for the big impact items for your events.

Top 20 Best Selling Silent Auction Items

Auction Item Description % Above Fair Market Value
Autographed music memorabilia 720%
Autographed sports memorabilia 370% - 630%
Popular home accessories 480%
Fine dining restaurant certificates 330% - 460%
Lottery ticket boards 460%
Weekend hotel packages 460%
Flight packages 400%
Unique event experiences 380%
Family cultural experiences 330% - 360%
Group beer tastings 340%
High-end home ware 340%
Fashion accessories 340%
Sports game tickets 330%
Jewelry 310%
Curated tour of private company or show 300%

If we look more closely at the figures, all items listed above raised at least 175% of their FMV, leading to some of the highest auction totals we saw all year. The list shows 15 items, due to popular categories appearing a number of times, as explained below.

Signed music or sports memorabilia, including autographed footballs, baseball shirts or other equipment from your region’s favorite team, is guaranteed to attract top bidders, raising 370%-630% of their FMV. Also popular are tickets to local sporting events. You’ll always find a couple of fans willing to bid high to support their team, particularly star players.

Fine dining restaurants, such as steak houses or celebrity establishments appeared numerous times making 330%-460% of their FMV. Happily, restaurant certificates are generally easy to come by, as restaurant owners enjoy the promotion they receive by being included in a charity auction.

Following the dining theme above, luxury kitchenware like a high-end knife collection or the latest coffee maker, inspire those looking to find a practical deal for their home.

Fashion is always a good category to include in any auction. High-end items from designer favorites like Tory Burch, Diane von Furstenburg, Michael Kors or Ralph Lauren, do very well, especially during our Fall events as we move into the holiday season. Handbags, shopping certificates and accessories are among the most highly sought fashion items.

Travel; whether a pair of airline tickets or a weekend stay at a Disney resort always generates excitement, with our top item this year, a weekend in New York City selling for 460% of the item’s FMV. Guests are just as happy to bid on a domestic trip over an international one, as there is less paperwork and organization involved, so concentrate your volunteer’s search efforts at home.

Perhaps the most popular item, appearing 5 times on our Top 20 list, falls under the category of unique experience packages. VIP seating box access at a Beyonce concert, an opportunity to drive your dream car, or a private tour of the Coca Cola factory, are some examples of experiences we’ve seen do really well this year. For something truly special reach out to well-connected board members or spend time brainstorming with your volunteer committee to see what unique relationships they may have. Be sure to promote these big impact items before the event (our online pre-bidding package makes this easy) and encourage your auction volunteers to point them out to guests.

General rule; anything that is unique, one of a kind, or limited will do very well at your event. Initially, a donation from a high-end fashion house or a weekend stay at a luxury hotel may seem impossible to achieve, but follow our advice below and you could find these items at your next auction.

  1. Form an Auction Committee: Peer to peer asks are always more successful than those coming from an organization’s staff members. By forming a committee, you gain access to a much larger network of potential donors. You can further widen this pool by involving Board members in seeking donations. The more people you enlist to help the higher the likelihood that someone has a luxury hotel or spa business relationship.
  2. Educate your Volunteers: Empower your volunteers with the tools and confidence they need to make “The Ask” for donation. Ensure they can tell the story of your organization and event clearly. If your volunteers are excited to ask and passionate about the cause, then the donor will be more likely to give a more impressive auction item.
  3. Create auction categories to make sure you get a variety of items. Additionally this gives the auction committee or Board members direction on what donations to solicit. As we have shown above, items that generate the most revenue include sports memorabilia, fine dining certificates and or a special experience such as backstage passes to a show.
  4. Go big with your ask, they can always come down. Be gracious, courteous and thankful for whatever they give. Make sure your committee has a formal process to connect with donors – you don’t want the same big impact donor being approached by three separate volunteers.
  5. Thank your donors: Thank every donor as soon as possible, and give recognition to that donor at the event and in your auction program. If a donor is happy with the auction, they will return year after year and perhaps give a larger item the next time. Our system automatically sends thank you confirmation emails once an item has been input online allowing you to worry about one less thing!


501 Auctions helps fund the growth of nonprofits nationwide with our easy-to-use mobile bidding software and auction management service. For more information on how they can help your organization exceed your fundraising goals please visit their website at, follow 501 Auctions' blog and connect with them on FacebookTwitter and Linked In.

For more on silent auctions listen to the NPA training by Sherry Truhlar called "The 5 Biggest Mistakes Made in Nonprofit Silent Auctions."